South Shore Health CEO Reflects on Grayken Gift
Compassion and Humanity are Essential to the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder
I began my medical career as a primary care physician at the height of the HIV epidemic. Every Thursday I saw patients with HIV simply because there weren’t enough clinicians willing to help.
It was shocking to me that fear, coupled with misinformation about what caused HIV and how it could be transmitted, created a stigma so strong that even the medical community didn’t feel comfortable treating people with the disease. At the time, HIV was seen as a “death sentence” by almost everyone in the world. Unfortunately, this irrational and unfounded stigma reduced the likelihood that individuals infected by the disease would seek treatment, and led to widespread discrimination and marginalization of those who needed help the most.
Our society has come a long way in its understanding of HIV over the last 30 years. People with HIV are now living longer, healthier, and happier lives. Through medical innovation, social policies, and advancements in human rights, the disease is more manageable and the general public is more accepting and supportive of those living with it.
Three decades later we’re facing an arguably greater public health crisis: substance use disorder (SUD).
The statistics are staggering. SUD now impacts more than 20 million people in the United States and costs upwards of $400 billion each year. That doesn’t even take into account the lasting problems SUD creates for the families and loved ones of those fighting the disease.
For the communities we serve, there is good news on the horizon for individuals and families affected by SUD. On February 28, 2019 South Shore Health announced the largest private gift in our organization’s 97-year history.
John and Eilene Grayken of Cohasset donated $10 million for Substance Use Disorder and Behavioral Health services and initiatives. It is a measure of superb compassion and a beautiful expression of shared humanity which will have an immediate impact for South Shore cities and towns and the residents who live within them.
The Grayken’s magnanimous gift will allow us to integrate behavioral health clinicians in our ambulatory sites; establish a rapid care treatment location for people with SUD; launch a Mobile Integrated Health program which will include our Emergency Department and Emergency Medical Services working alongside local police and fire agencies; support our collaboration with Aspire Health Alliance (formerly South Shore Mental Health); and further our strong relationship with the Office Based Addiction Treatment (OBAT) program at Boston Medical Center (BMC). All of our plans fall under the umbrella of Substance Use Disorder and Behavioral Health. Our programs in these areas will be named the Grayken Center for Treatment at South Shore Health.
Similar to the HIV crisis, we’re also intent on educating our community on how to reduce the stigma associated with SUD. This effort includes changing the language we use to talk about addiction, as well as providing services and programming that promote a culture of understanding and support.
With support from the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center, nurses throughout South Shore Health have been trained in the “Words Matter” model to help eliminate language that stigmatizes patients with SUD. They, in turn, will impart this knowledge and provide information, guidance, and tools to other colleagues throughout our health system
Transforming the way that we talk about SUD is an important step to reshaping the conversation and reducing stigma. What we say and how we say it really does make a difference. How we characterize SUD will help everyone – from patient to provider to insurance company – understand addiction for the disease that it is.
SUD comes in many forms – alcohol, tobacco, opioids and other drugs – and affects people from all walks of life. It is a chronic disease that requires expert medical attention – much like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or HIV – and we have to recognize it as such for people to seek and receive the medical care they truly need.